Google explains its privacy view to MPs
Two senior Google executives have defended the search giant’s approach to illegal content in response to intense questioning by a UK parliamentary committee.
Monday’s session (30 January 2011) became heated as members of the joint committee on privacy and injunctions interrogated David-John Collins and Daphne Keller of Google, who respectively hold the roles of vice-president of global communications and public affairs; and legal director and associate general counsel.
Former FIA president Max Mosley gave evidence to the committee in December 2011 as part of the Leveson Inquiry – a process investigating the conduct of the media – in which he criticised Google, saying the company had failed to remove offending content from its search results. In 2008, Mr Mosley won a court case against former national newspaper the News Of The World after it published details of a private video in which he featured. Google did not universally remove all traces of the video from its results, despite the material having been judged to be in breach of privacy.
Ms Keller explained that many results had been removed, but there was no simple mechanism to delete every instance of similar content. She added that it was not a path Google wished to tread, instead preferring to remove items once they have been reported as offensive and investigated.
Google is complying with the law
“Ultimately the determination of which web pages violate the law is something for a court, for a person, to make – rather than for an algorithm to make potentially erroneous conclusions about what should come down,” said Keller.
Former Conservative party chairman Lord Mawhinney, a member of the committee, responded: “I hope you will take it as a compliment when I say you are extremely hard to pin down. You have ducking and diving down to a fine art.”
Mr Collins pointed out that Google is complying with the law and is not responsible for all content on the internet, merely indexing it for people to navigate.
After the session, committee member and Liberal Democrat MP Martin Horwood took to Twitter to criticise his colleagues’ internet ignorance, saying the rudeness towards Google had been ’embarrassing’.
Richard Frost, managing editor at theEword, said: “Martin Horwood’s response is likely to represent the view of many who understand that implementing an algorithm to censor particular details could result in the accidental removal of legal and useful content, among other problems.”